Cheltenham manager Mark Yates declared himself ‘one of the happiest men inside Sixfields’ after seeing his side escape with a 1-0 defeat against the Cobblers in the first leg of the npower League Two play-off semi-finals on Thursday.
The Robins boss felt his side were very much second best in a tight encounter, even going as far as saying they took ‘a battering’ in the second half, and admitted he was relieved that Northampton will travel to Whaddon Road on Sunday protecting only a single goal advantage.
Roy O’Donovan scored the goal that secured the narrow lead for the Cobblers, who pressed hard all game and were only denied a second goal by a fantastic save by Scott Brown from Adebayo Akinfenwa midway through the second half.
Cheltenham had plenty of possession and had their moments too, with Paul Benson firing wide when totally unmarked 12 yards out just minutes after O’Donovan’s strike, and Lee Nicholls touching over a rising drive from Jermaine McGlashan after the interval.
But Yates felt his side weren’t at the races, and said: “I am probably one of the happiest men inside Sixfields.
“Northampton had lots of crosses into the box, and I thought we dealt with them manfully, but we were nowhere near our best in this game.
“We were outplayed and outfought, but we showed fighting qualities and we showed capabilities of holding on and scrapping it out.
“I am disappointed with the goal, but it is only half-time.
“We came here to win the game with the set up we had, and we go back to Whaddon Road now where have a good home record, so it should be a decent game on Sunday.”
And he added: “Northampton put a lot of balls into our box, which we knew they were going to do, and they got into some good positions and we could have done better with stopping the crosses.
“But we dealt with everything that came in superbly, and I think Scott Brown has made one good save, but the rest was the two centre-halves and opposite full-back heading everything out like they should do, and my midfielders staying with their runners.
“We wanted to be a lot better, we came to Northampton to win the game, but if you get a battering like we did in the second half, you have to be happy with the 1-0.
“Northampton are a really good, strong side, it was a decent atmosphere, and we knew we would have to stand up to them.
“On the whole we have done that, but we have to try and play our game a little bit more.”
Cheltenham felt they should have had a penalty early in the second half, when McGlashan went to ground with Luke Guttridge in close attendance.
Referee Mick Russell saw nothing in it, and Yates admitted he felt the referee favoured the Cobblers throughout the game - although he did miss the penalty incident as he was otherwise engaged.
“I was actually in the toilet then that happened,” said Yates.
“My assistant was convinced it was a penalty, and Jermaine was too, you could tell by his reaction.
“He gets fouled a lot and he got nothing tonight, but then again the whole team got nothing all night.
“We had no decisions go for us, but that said, Northampton were the better team and I have no complaints with the result.”
Yates is still confident Cheltenham can now go on and book their place in the Wembley final, but he knows Sunday’s return leg is going to be tight.
“We have a good home record,” said the Robins boss.
“We now have to make sure the boys get the right recovery and are fully prepared, and we then need one big effort.
“At home we are decent, we have beaten a lot of the top sides there, and we are going to have to do it again.
“I felt we were always going to have to win our home game no matter what, and that is certainly the case now.”